Fantasy elements thrive in a Thailand spa, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.
There is only one way in to The Barai spa at the Hyatt Regency resort in Hua Hin, Thailand. Stressed city dwellers enter a tunnel devoid of light. A few paces later a natural light display takes shape as the tunnel winds a path to an epicentre court surrounding a rectangular pool of water open to the sky.
A scientist could explain how light impacts emotion receptors in the brain. I am a mere appreciative client of The Barai who is experiencing, thanks to the angle of the sun, salubrious shafts of light through star-shaped cut-outs on an adobe wall.
I've visited many stunning spas around the world, from week-long destination spas to resort spas, day spas and a simple bamboo massage on a beach. But The Barai is the only spa that has stimulated my own emotions even before the therapist had laid a hand on me.
With every turn through another pathway, another door, there is yet another visual surprise to transport you from the real world of stress and responsibility into a virtual fantasy world.
The architecture is key. Lek Bunnag used Khmer design from the 11th century and Apsara, the Buddhist and Hindi goddess of clouds and water, as his inspiration. None of this is obvious; instead the entire spa presents glimpses of what might be.
In the ancient Khmer world a "baray" was a large man-made reservoir. The reservoir channelled irrigated water and was a centre of well-being and peace. Bunnag has created a geometric reflection pool devoid of fish, fountains or other distractions.
The clear waters reflect the colonnades on all sides and create an illusion of infinity. This illusion is repeated through a plethora of pathways with open doorways that mimic each other.
Look to the side as you step through one doorway into a path to another and catch glimpses of the giant feet, hair and face of Apsara as though you are looking through a peephole.
Bunnag is a design wizard. The entire external walls of the building are coated in muted pink tones of outback red. The colour changes with the sun from matt ochre to dusty pink and back again, and while the press release may say 11th-century Khmer you could also be in Morocco or Arabia.
Treatment rooms (the spa boasts 18) have multiple doors that open out to private open-air compounds with sweeping tent-style fabrics and private tubs. The spa even has a Court of Tranquillity for yoga and meditation and a swimming channel for peaceful laps. I could easily just wander this masterpiece for hours from one treatment room to the next and sit quietly watching the sun change the colours and the angles of light.
But apparently there are treatments on offer here, too. "Spa butlers" act as guides for each guest's spa journey, helping you make decisions on treatments which focus on the four elements.
Most devotees book in for the three or four-hour treatments to allow The Barai to work true magic with herbal compress massages, moor mud facials, clay wraps, Vichy showers and more.
My treatment room has stars on the ceiling, cut out of the ceiling and infused with coloured glass to let the light create a hue.
The complex, including eight residential suites in a rainforest garden, is built on 1.8 hectares of beachfront land and is part of the larger Hyatt enclave of 200-plus resort rooms. The spa has a separate entrance.
When the treatment ends and you leave The Barai, you do so through a different exit, more open to the skies than the tunnel in, a private courtyard in which to say goodbye. The light looks different this time; I suspect it is meant to be that way.
The writer was a guest of The Barai.
Thai Airways flies daily from Melbourne (9hr 10min) and Sydney (9hr 25min) for about $1040 low-season return including tax. Phone 1300 651 960, see www.thaiairways.com.
The resort can arrange ground transfers to Hua Hin, 200 kilometres south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand.
The Hyatt Regency Resort guest rooms start from 5500 baht ($190) plus taxes and the residential spa accommodation includes the Barai Balcony Suite from 19500 baht plus taxes including personal butler and daily one hour spa treatment. The Barai is open to non-hotel guests. Spa treatments start from 3900 baht for a 90-minute Barai blend massage. See huahin.regency.hyatt.com.